A Place With Bread & Cheese & Cookies

Originally posted October 2, 2007

Well, the rat cage is empty this morning.

Sometime today, I’ll give it a good cleaning and put it out on the balcony, where it can stay until we donate it to the local Humane Society. We won’t be using it again.

We took Wilbur to the vet yesterday and sent him home to wherever it is pets go when they are done here. Unlike in July, when Wilbur’s pal Darwin left us, this departure wasn’t a surprise. We’d scheduled our visit to the vet about ten days ago.

Wilbur – whom we’d had since Thanksgiving 2005 – didn’t do all that well after Darwin died. He missed his pal. We tried to pay more attention to him, but we’re not sure we succeeded. Rats are incredibly social animals. They bond with their cagemates – and with their people – more than I would have thought possible. With Darwin gone, I’m afraid Wilbur needed more attention than he got from us in his last three months.

And in the last month, his health had started to fail. Rats are prone to tumors, and Wilbur had a small one on his back for more than a year. References we consulted basically told us to keep an eye on it and his behavior, so we did, especially after we lost Darwin. And for the last month, we could see that Wilby wasn’t always comfortable even though he never lost his appetite for bread and cheese and cookies. Some days, he’d huddle up and not engage with us much. Other days, however, he’d perk up at the sound of our voices and want to be held in our laps, where he’d lie down and close his eyes with his jaws grinding in contentment.

As we told our vet in mid-September, a week or so before we set the appointment, Wilbur probably was having two good days to one bad day. For the last week, well, it was maybe one-to-one. It was time.

As I wrote when Darwin died, I had never figured that rats would be good pets. But the little fellows drew me in and captured me. Their antics were funny, they had sweet dispositions and they were far more engaged with us than I could ever have imagined. Wilbur was the clown, always playing, always in motion when we brought them out onto the couch for company. At least he was until the last few months, when he preferred to snuggle up with either one of us and be quiet.

Because we were able to plan for Wilbur’s exit, there isn’t the shock today that there was in July when Darwin died. But there is grief. That’s eased by the vision of Wilbur being reunited with his pals Darwin and Orville in some distant place, a place where there’s always lots of bread and cheese and cookies.

I’m not trying to make this bigger than it is. Wilbur was a rat – a funny, friendly rat – and no more than that. There are millions in the world with griefs greater than ours this morning. But our grief is enough for us today. Those who share their lives with pets will understand while those who don’t might not.

It was difficult to find an appropriate song for today’s cover version. Everything I considered seemed either too cutesy or too grand. So I decided to go with grandness and a track from the star-studded Concert For George. After all, Wilbur was a pretty grand rat.

Paul McCartney – “All Things Must Pass” [2002]


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